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No court date set for Eatonton police chief’s case

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    Eatonton Police Chief Kent Lawrence, pictured in 2019 standing in the Putnam County Superior Courtroom, has been on administrative leave with pay since Dec. 11. LYNN HOBBS/Staff

The case of Eatonton Police Chief Kent Lawrence still has not gone to court, according to court officials.

The city’s longtime police chief was arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Dec. 11 on charges of two counts of simple battery and one count of battery. The charges stem from allegations that Lawrence used excessive force against a 58-year-old Eatonton woman in custody at the police department.

According to the warrants and affidavits, 61-year-old Lawrence is accused of causing physical harm to Tina Childress, 58, by pulling her hair, striking her head multiple times with his hand, and dragging across her by the handcuffs on her wrists after she was arrested for DUI on Nov. 8 and refused to cooperate with officers. The incident was caught on body camera of an unnamed police officer and turned over to then-District Attorney Stephen Bradley, who requested the GBI Region 6 Milledgeville office conduct an investigation.

GBI special agents arrested Lawrence at the police department and he was taken to jail at Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, where he was reportedly “treated like anybody else,” according to Sheriff Howard Sills. Shortly after his arrest, Lawrence was released on his own recognizance by Superior Court Judge Brenda H. Trammell.

Lawrence was immediately placed on administrative leave with pay until further notice, according to Eatonton City Administrator Gary Sanders. City Council members appointed Investigator Howell Cardwell as acting police chief.

Lawrence was originally scheduled for an initial appearance in state court on Feb. 8, according to defense attorney Morris “Mo” Wiltshire, of Athens, but that had to be rescheduled because the local court officials needed to recuse themselves because they have worked with Lawrence for so many years. Lawrence has served as Eatonton’s police chief since Dec. 1, 1986.

On Monday, Wiltshire said he has received no new information regarding any upcoming arraignment or court hearing. Putnam County Deputy Clerk Raynell Britt said Eatonton State Judge R Michael Gailey had recused himself and the case was appointed to State Court Judge Alan W. Thrower in Milledgeville, but no dates were on the calendar. Putnam County Solicitor General Russell Thomas, who also recused himself, said he has received no word from the Prosecutor Attorney Council of Georgia on who will prosecute the case. A source said Baldwin County Skye Gess said she has not heard from the PAC concerning appointment to the case.